Prior to the Windows 8 launch, gamers and PC power users in general were losing their (quad core, liquid-cooled) minds over the implications of the new operating system. In a stark departure from seventeen years of computing tradition,* Microsoft had decided to replace one arbitrary shortcut menu with a modern, equally arbitrary shortcut menu. It would be an unmitigated disaster.
Of course, the slick new Start Menu (also known as the Start Switching to Linux Menu, or the Antichrist Menu) wasn’t the only problem among panic-stricken power users. The freshly minted Windows 8 Store was also seen as an affront to traditional computing. Gamers feared that Microsoft would eventually snuff out Desktop-based software, eventually leaving only its licensed apps to garner all PC gaming profits.
This (hypothetically) exclusive, integrated design led Gabe Newell, president of Valve and patron saint of PC gaming, to condemn Windows 8 as a “catastrophe.” And, as with all of GabeN’s hadiths, it was immediately embraced as Steam Church canon. Surely, anyone foolish enough to taste the forbidden Windows 8 fruit** was doomed to an eternity of shovelware, birth pangs, and blue screens of death!
But intrigued by the Microserpent, I decided to take a bite of Windows 8. And guess what went wrong first?
Start at the Start: It’s just a menu
The panic over Windows 8 begins with the end of the Start Menu… purely nostalgia-fueled hysteria. Ever since Windows XP, the Start Menu has been losing relevance as a program-executing hub. The quick-launch area of the Task Bar made users’ most common software instantly accessible, later improved in Vista/7 with pinned programs. If you needed something you didn’t have pinned, you could just hit your keyboard’s Windows key and start typing to find and launch it. And, of course, most users (read: young/old/disorganized people) launched everything from Desktop shortcuts anyway, bypassing both the Start Menu and the Task Bar.
In other words, almost nobody actually clicked around the Start Menu for things other than Control Panel. Both casual and power users bypassed it completely with shortcuts, pins, and searching. Plus, the whole concept of a menu-driven corner launcher was growing obsolete anyway, thanks to increasing monitor resolutions and increasingly dense program lists.
Windows 8 just collapsed the Start Menu, Desktop, and Task Bar into one full-screen launcher: the Start Screen. Instead of having a corner of your monitor deliver tiny, hard-to-click shortcuts (the Start Menu), icons are now Live Tiles that are instantly apparent and identifiable. Instead of an unorganized clutter of programs and documents (the Desktop), the Start Screen allows simple categorization and (if desired) multi-page scrolling. Instead of static icons that serve no purpose when idle (the Task Bar), Live Tiles now display helpful program updates even when they’re not in use. And if you’re a power user who doesn’t like giant buttons, you can still launch anything you want using only the keyboard via Start Screen searching.
And if you absolutely hate all of that, you can still use the Desktop and Task Bar. They didn’t go anywhere. If you want to litter them with random icons and photos you’re too lazy to organize, it’s totally cool.
But why not just learn to love the Start Screen? If you want to play Team Fortress 2, just click the Tile for it, or hit the Windows Key and type T-E-A-ENTER. It’s just as fast (if not faster) as launching it from the Task Bar or from Steam, and there are no contextual menus necessary. The Start Screen doesn’t slow down your fun by making you hunt for a 10-pixel logo. It’s an integrated program/search launcher … that’s it.
Don’t Crap on Apps
While the concept of an App Store for games makes many PC enthusiasts cringe, there’s really nothing to fear. Almost all Windows 8 Games (so far) are simple applications that aren’t really positioned to compete with AAA gaming titles. Stuff like Angry Birds, Jetpack Joyride, Minesweeper, and the like fill out the catalog, all intended to be simple distractions in the same vein as Solitaire. And while Gabe Newell may be against the concept of a monolithic PC gaming platform, he may be shocked to learn that Steam pretty much fits the bill!
Basically, if you were afraid Microsoft would make a sweeping power play to wrestle control of PC gaming away from your favorite developers, you can rest at ease. The Windows App Store doesn’t appear to be a gaming coup d’etat or, if it is, it’s a terrible attempt at one. The App Store just isn’t meant to be like Steam, Origin, or UPlay.*** Outside of Apps, all of your old Desktop titles run just as well (if not better) than they did in Windows 7, and now it’s actually easier to organize them.
And if you’re not in the mood to play AAA games like Train Simulator, Battlefield 3, Hat Simulator, or Farm Simulator, you now have the option to instantly launch a quick App Store diversion like Pinball FX2. They’re fun ways to pass a few minutes, and the fact that they can be snapped to 1/3 or 2/3 of the screen makes It easier than ever to procrastinate. Hell, this article took an extra 2 hours, thanks to completely bullshit Minesweeper layouts.
Getting Over Window Pains
I’m not going to claim Windows 8 is perfect. There are a litany of qualms I have with the operating system, including the baffling lack of a tutorial and the way certain settings are handled. The Charms bar’s universality is great, but the mouse and keyboard gestures needed to open it are annoying. Plus, the learning curve of the OS doesn’t help, though that will obviously pass with time.
But as far as gaming goes, my Windows 8 experience has been equal to or better than it was on previous versions of Microsoft’s OS. Launching my favorite games is as fast or faster than before, and a supplement of less serious (but well integrated) titles helps round out my gaming experience.
If you were holding out from a Windows 8 “upgrade” because you heard the OS would kill PC gaming or that the Start Screen was developed in exactly 666 lines of code over 666 days, relax. Nobody is taking away your fun just yet. And hey, the longer you wait to adopt the new Windows, the harder it’s going to be down the line. Jump on board, plug in, and help usher the PC Master Race into the future of online gaming.
* Or, in internet time, an eternity.
** Decidedly not an Apple.
*** I’m not even sure it’s supposed to be like Games for Windows Live!